At a campaign rally in St. Louis in 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama tried Chicago-style deep-dish pizza from a relatively new restaurant, Pi Pizzeria. He told his aide, Reggie Love, it was some of the best pizza he'd ever tasted. Fast-forward six months to May 2009, and Pi owner Chris Sommers was invited to bring a few team members to the White House to cook the pizza for President Obama. The folks from Pi have since made the pizza for the president a few more times.
Having a presidential endorsement never hurts a restaurant's PR efforts, but Pi's quick growth (from one unit in 2008 to four St. Louis locations, a Washington, DC, location and a pizza truck in St. Louis and D.C.) is attributable to Sommers and his team running a smart business. Sommers says Pi's success is partially due to embracing “cloud” (web-based) technologies.
While most of these online tools cost money, Sommers says the investments Pi makes into them pay huge returns. “We embrace technology and cloud apps for many reasons, but most importantly, they provide transparency, accountability and scalability. I can't even imagine a paper-based system of scheduling, reporting or HR. I have such a better grasp of my business and my team from our use of technology. It took a bit of convincing to get some of our seasoned team members on board at first, but now they, too, see the value and love that it enables them to run restaurants rather than push paper.”
Here are 10 online sites that Pi uses to drive its business:
Google Mail (http://mail.google.com) — All internal communications.
Google Docs (http://docs.google.com) — All spreadsheets, word processing, PowerPoints, task lists. It's fantastic for collaboration, particularly when opening a new restaurant.
Formstack (www.formstack.com) — All night sales and status reports, internal transfers of products, new hires, promotions, terminations of team members, online job applications, contact forms on web.
Patronpath (www.patronpath.com) — Enables online customer ordering.
Distributor Online Ordering — “Our teams use online ordering at our broadline distributor rather than a paper-based system.”
EchoSign (www.echosign.com) — Online eSignature, so there's no need to print docs for signature. All are signed electronically.
Schedulefly (www.schedulefly.com) — Online scheduling, shift trades (eliminates lots of paper), approvals, time off requests, mass-messaging to staff, fun “Facebook-ish” message wall.
Blogger (www.blogger.com) — “Instead of memos, Pi's staff all use blogger to distribute content and alerts for management/team consumption.”
Square — (squareup.com) Use it just on trucks, with iPads. Guests get email or text message receipts, or elect “no receipt.”
Sommers has so embraced technology that he developed a new web-based tool himself, which is coming soon: Sqwid (www.sqwid.com). It links social media and guest feedback with hospitality and loyalty. Guests can redeem rewards for their feedback and loyalty by displaying their smart phone reward to staff.
“Once you try these types of tools, you quickly won't know how you managed without them,” says Sommers.
Wil Brawley is a partner at Schedulefly (www.schedulefly.com), a company that provides web-based restaurant staff scheduling and communication software. He recently interviewed 20 successful restaurant owners from all over the U.S., and published those interviews in a book titled Restaurant Owners Uncorked: Twenty Owners Share Their Recipes for Success.